Champions

Patriot, one of my Champions Online characters Recently I started playing the MMO Champion Online. Champions Online is based on Champions, Hero Games‘ award winning superhero roleplaying game. Although I enjoy the MMO very much so far, I don’t know anything about the pen & paper game it was based on. So I started to do some research.
I quickly noticed that although the MMO is based on the Champions Universe, it’s not using the HERO System! But Hero Games is planning to release a book to allow you to recreate your Champions Online characters for the pen & paper game.

The first edition of Champions was published back in 1981 and it was actually one of the first games to use a point-buy system for character creation instead of randomly generating stats by rolling dice. It also took a tool kit approach for power creation much like what you may know from the more recent Savage Worlds game.
In 1987 the Champions rules system were released as the generic roleplaying game HERO System that allowed play in all genres. Recently the 6th edition of HERO has been released.

The HERO System
HERO SYSTEM 6th Edition Characters in a HERO System game are described by Characteristics (like Strength and Intelligence), Skills, Perks (special resources the character has access to like money, contacts, etc.), Talents (unusual abilities and powers better than Skills but less powerful than actual Powers) and Powers. Powers are the superhuman abilities of golden age superheroes, magic of dark sorcerers or even psychic abilities. In the HERO System Powers are effect-based. So mechanically a superhero’s Flame Blast power may be similar to a wizards Magic Missile power. Powers can be customized by numerous modifiers, which effects not only how the Power works but also how much it costs during character creation.

Most check are made by rolling 3d6. A roll is successful if you get a result equal or less than some given difficulty. A roll of 3 always succeeds, a roll of 18 always fails. Although the basic mechanic is quite easy, the HERO System is notorious for the math involved in play and character creation.

The Champions Universe
The setting of the original Champions game (and its later editions) and the aforementioned MMO is the so-called Champions Universe. From what I’ve seen so far, the Champions Universe is a golden age superhero setting which reminded me a lot of what I know and love from classic Marvel and DC comic books. Alas there’s less information about the setting available on the internet than I hoped. If you have played in the Champions Universe before, feel free to post some more info in the comments below.

I have to admit I still haven’t read any of the Champions roleplaying game nor any of the HERO System books. The only sources I had were the internet (mainly Wikipedia and the official Hero Games site and a 5-paged introduction to HERO System 5th Edition). But I have to admit I am quite intrigued by the way this game handles superpowers. And I always had a soft spot for the Superhero genre, so I may give Champions a try.

Are there any Champions/HERO System veterans with us? Can you please share some of your thoughts on the system and what edition of the game would you recommend for new players? Any advice is appreciated!

13 thoughts on “Champions”

  1. I love CO. I was worried it would be like City of Heroes 1.5, but IMO it is definitely more COH 2.0 than just an incremental upgrade.

    The game is surprisingly complex, once you get further into it, which unfortunately means you can easily create a poorly made character unable to accomplish much. This wouldn't be a problem so much except for the friends who immediately quit because their weird character concept constantly gets beat down.

    Anyways, I love the game. 🙂

  2. I used to play a lot of Champions, and my dissatisfaction with is what led me to working on Kapow! The basic problem with Champions, imo, is the way it makes a fetish of "balancing" the costs of powers against each other. This leads to character creation being a mini-game in itself, one that is about as fun to many people as double-entry bookkeeping. The character creation is complex enough that in the end the effectiveness of your character depends more on skill at taking advantage of the point-breaks and synergies in the accounting than how combat-effective the powers are, which totally makes a hash of the one thing it might have been good for, which is providing a rough yardstick for saying a 300 point character should be able to take on a 300 point character, a 200 point character a 200 point character, etc. A cleverly built 150 point character can often punch harder and survive longer than a vanilla 300 point character.

    I could go on about the basic incoherence of the notion of balance, and whine about how long it takes to resolve a few seconds of combat, but that's probably enough for now. Mostly Champs encourages and rewards a kind of rules-lawyerly powergaming that nowadays I have no patience for.
    .-= Joshua´s last blog ..Kapow! Introductions =-.

  3. 5th edition revised, period. 6th is looking like a failed attempt to reboot the game and attract the MMO people. It's looking even MORE complex than 5th revised.

  4. @Joshua: Thanks for the warning. I think instead of getting a copy of Champions I should have another look at your Kapow! rules.

  5. I started playing Champions back in '83. I have played plenty of other games (D&D in all its versions, GURPS, RoleMaster) not to mention almost every superhero RPG out there. Hero is definitely my system of choice, for a number of reasons, but it comes down to a few simple ones:

    1. Reasoning from effect. This means you decide the impact a power has on the game/environment and that determines how it will be built in the game system.

    2. Universal. I don't always play supers. I like post-apocalyptic (e.g. Fallout, STALKER), fantasy, and cyberpunk. I can play them all in Hero at different power levels. No new rules to learn.

    3. Community. The Hero online community is one of the friendliest communities on the web. If you are a noob or a veteran you can hop into the forums, discuss the power or campaign idea you have, and you will get awesome responses. Plus what you are trying to do has probably been done or nearly done before so their might already be several solutions.

    If you want to get started, find a local convention and get into a game, or pick up a copy of the basic rules (https://www.herogames.com/viewItem.htm?itemID=242421). The Basic rules are a trim downed version of the full rules so that you aren't overwhelmed with options.

    One of the criticisms voiced above is this idea of power/character balance. While it is true that the general design theory is to make X points of one power roughly equivalent in utility to X points of another power, the style of the campaign and the restriction on how you build your characters is up to you. Superman and Beastboy are not the same power level, but they are in the same universe/campaign, and their are things that Beastboy can do that Superman can't even touch. If every game is about fighting the bad guy, Beastboy is going to be outshined every time. But a good GM/storyteller can ensure that the characters are balanced in ways that points don't even matter.

    Check it out. Lurk in the forums (https://www.herogames.com/forums/). I hope you can have as many years of fun with the game as I have.

  6. It's true that a good GM can balance things so that the points don't matter, which is why it's even more of a shame that Champs encourages you to waste hours doing fiddly accounting to no good purpose.
    .-= Joshua´s last blog ..Kapow! Introductions =-.

  7. Editions: 6th. Even if you prefer 5th, the material will be disappearing soon. 6th is an improvement over 5th and definitely not an attempt to attract just MMO players. The changes made are about an evolution of the game over 10 years and some corrections that were necessary. In addition the art and layout were much improved and the overall result is a game that is better than it's previous version.

    Rules Lite: It isn't, but you can play it that way. The main design decision (my understanding from conversations with the current developers) is that they have defined/answered everything so you don't have to. The core mechanics are really all you need to shoot from the hip, but if a discussion arises on whether X or Y should happen, the rule is there. Now, if you are playing with people that like to argue about that sort of thing, then consider who you are playing with. I suggest you find a good GM, one you can put your trust in, and let them decide how to apply the rules in a given situation right, wrong, or indifferent. No amount of rules simplicity or specificity will make up for adversarial players who are more interested in arguing the mechanics over the substance of the story.

    I run mostly D&D modules, Dungeon Crawl Classics specifically, and I run it all in Hero. I love the fact that when my players get into the middle of a trap or fighting a monster and come up with some creative solution I can fairly judge how resolution should occur AND take into account a high level of circumstantial detail (something my players very much enjoy/appreciate). The brick fighter wants to know no just whether he can grab the kobold, but that he can grab the kobold one handed, use it as a club against another kobold, while shield bashing a third kobold, and consequently scaring the beejeebus out of the rest of them. Mechanics/rules exist for all of that. Can I storytell my way through that in a rules light system? Absolutely, but many gamers enjoy the gaming aspect of overcoming a challenge with a certain random element and being able to game the odds by leveraging circumstances AND storytelling. Hero does that and it does that well.

  8. Last point on character creation: HeroDesigner. A detailed java app that runs on all platforms and includes every power, modifier, skill, complication, perk, talent and more. With a solid character concept and an understanding of the rules you can make a character very quickly (1-2 hours). Is that longer than other games? Some yes, games like Savage Worlds, Hex, D&D – no. You get out of the system what you put into it, and it absolutely matters what type of gaming experience you are looking for.

    There is no one game. You wouldn't play Dogs in the Vinyard or My Life with Master in Hero. They style of game and play you enjoy is everything. World of Darkness plays/feels very different in Storyteller than it does in GURPS than it would in Hero and I would imagine Kapow!. That doesn't make any of those games better/worse than the others, it just makes them more or less suited to your style of play.

    You don't drive an SUV in NASCAR. Everything has its purpose and place. I have played with a lot of different gamers in a lot of different games and conventions and elsewhere and I think one of the biggest issues is a misunderstanding of a game's suitability for their style and expectations. When they don't have fun, they blame it on the game in stead of looking at whether or not that game was what they were looking for.

    Heroclix != Marvel != Silver Age Sentinels != Champions. They all play differently.

  9. @mudpyr8: Thanks for your insight into Champions/HERO System. Perhaps I will check out the Basic rules when I get the opportunity.

  10. The HERO system is one of my favorites. I own all 5 editions, but I still on the fence of getting the 6th. Its one of those how cumbersome the rules turn out to be. Investing a hour or two into creating a PC is about all I want to do. However I have several players who don't want to spend that time. The system is a great tool kit and can do many things well. However it takes time to setup a game, and sometimes it's easier to go with a genre specific game or one specific settings (thinking GURPS). Hero has settings books but those are often toolkit like. It comes down sometimes how much prep time to prepare a game. Like all games it depends on what you want to run and how to run it. (I'm not going to comment about play style and rules lawyering).

    As with all games the players and GM are the responsible for the game being fun.

    As for the 6th edition still waiting to see how it looks…

  11. I certainly don't want to discourage you from checking out the Hero System; I've had many hours of fun with it…. but I think mudpyr8t's comment about using the right software tools you can get chargen down to a "very quick" 1-2 hours per about sums it up.
    .-= Joshua´s last blog ..Kapow! Introductions =-.

  12. @Joshua: I think Mudpyr8 is talking about games where you leave creation options wide open and let every player fully leverage the "toolbox." In the HERO games I've run recently, I used to toolbox to build the game feel I was shooting for (for instance, I recreated D&D2E – all the nostalgia with a robust combat and skill system underneath).

    I pre-build classes, powers, spells, etc.. Do it this way, with a simple point cost associated with everything, and you can make a character in less than 20 minutes (and that's if you're picky). It's like shopping for abilities!

    Playing this way was a TON of fun and really brought out HERO's strengths. My biggest complaint is that there aren't more official products that do this – putting a fun shell on the smart system underneath.

    1. I currently have to many unread roleplaying game books on my shelf anyway. And don't get me started about the unplayed ones. 😉 So, although I am interested in the HERO System I probably won't read it anytime soon. Aside from that I also decided to get Necessary Evil for Savage World which gives me a lot of the "toolbox" aspect of HERO System combined with a system I really enjoy: Savage Worlds.
      And regarding long character creation: I think my first Rolemaster character took me 5 hours or so. Two hours for a HERO System character is NOTHING. 😉

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